|The Office episode|
|Episode no.||Season 4
|Directed by||Joss Whedon|
|Written by||Mindy Kaling|
|Original air date||November 1, 2007|
"Branch Wars" is the tenth episode of the fourth season of the American comedy television series The Office—the show's sixty-third episode overall. Written by Mindy Kaling and directed by Joss Whedon, the episode originally aired in the United States on November 1, 2007 on NBC. The episode marks the return of season three regular Rashida Jones, who plays Jim's former girlfriend Karen, now Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Utica.
Karen tries to "poach" Stanley from Dunder Mifflin Scranton, and Stanley informs the branch that he is leaving. In revenge, Michael and Dwight trick Jim into traveling to the company's Utica branch, where the group attempts to play a prank on Karen. Back at the office, Pam, Oscar, and Toby try to hold their club meeting, with disastrous results.
Karen Filippelli (Jones) attempts to lure Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker) away from Scranton by offering him a pay raise. Regional Manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell), believing that Karen is doing this to get back at Assistant Regional Manager Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) for "dumping" her, decides to retaliate. Michael and salesman Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) trick Jim into joining them on a trip to Utica to prank Karen’s branch. After a failed attempt to steal the branch's industrial copier, the group is discovered by Karen, who chastises them in her office. Privately, she mocks Jim for devising such an elaborate ruse to see her. Jim’s attempts to deflect the issue are unsuccessful, letting slip that he and Pam are happily dating. The group returns to Scranton, where Michael bids Stanley farewell. Stanley decides to stay in Scranton, revealing that his threat was a bluff to get a raise.
Meanwhile, Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer), Oscar Martinez (Oscar Nunez), and Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein) form a "Finer Things Club", discussing literature, music, and the arts. Their meetings are regularly disrupted by other employees, particularly Andy Bernard (Ed Helms), whose desperate efforts to join prove unsuccessful. Pam invites Jim to join the club but regrets the move when, during the discussion of Angela's Ashes, Jim merely speaks in an Irish brogue and reveals that he hasn’t actually read the book.
"Branch Wars" was the second Office episode directed by Joss Whedon, the creator of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Whedon had previously directed the third season episode "Business School". The episode was the seventh Office episode written by Mindy Kaling, who also acts for the show as customer service representative Kelly Kapoor. "Branch Wars" marked the return of Karen Filippelli, who was a regular as a member of the Dunder Mifflin Stamford branch, and later Dunder Mifflin Scranton in the third season. Her last previous appearance was the fourth season premiere Fun Run, although she only appeared in one scene. Utica salesman Ben Nugent, although not appearing on screen, is heard via a telephone conference and shares the same name as Kaling's former real-life boyfriend, Benjamin Nugent.
"Branch Wars" received a 5.0/7 in the Nielsen ratings, meaning that five percent of households were tuned in at any given moment and seven percent of all televisions in use at the time were tuned into the program. The episode was watched by 8.39 million viewers and achieved a 4.5/11 in the ages 18–49 demographic. Mindy Kaling's writing in the episode was nominated for "Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series" in the 2008 NAACP Image Awards.
Oscar Dahl, a senior writer for BuddyTV, gave the episode a favorable review and stated that "Tonight's Office was possibly the funniest of the season." Christine Fenno of Entertainment Weekly stated that "... 'Branch Wars', penned by Mindy Kaling, didn't measure up to the brilliance of last week's episode ('Local Ad') but served up plenty of laughs." Travis Fickett of IGN stated that "This episode feels like it comes in two halves, one that works and one that doesn't so much " when referring to the trip to Utica, and "The Finer Things Club", respectively, but later pointed out that "Despite being a somewhat bumpy ride, the episode has a fair number of big laughs." Fickett particularly enjoyed Jim's character in the episode, and his actions and reactions to the situation that he became involved in.
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